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How to delegate so your team become all-stars and people want to work for you.

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

GTD Steps: Clarify, Organize and Engage

If you've managed people, you know it can be challenging at times. Each person is different and approaches their work in a different way. Some want you to tell them what to do and then leave them alone. Others want more guidance and direction. Some like to drive discussions about their work while others prefer you direct the conversation.

Regardless of the work style of your team member, the way in which you assign them work can have a big impact on how well they perform it. If you're not clear or specific about your expectations they are not likely to meet them. When they're not quite sure what you want, they feel like they're guessing and need a lot more guidance along the way. They don't get the satisfaction that comes from taking ownership and you feel like you're having to direct them every step of the way. They end up feeling discouraged and you end up feeling frustrated. Neither of you is satisfied with your working relationship.

On the other hand, if you're clear and specific about your expectations when assigning work, you're setting them up for success. Most people want to do a good job and when you paint a clear picture of what that looks like, they work to meet it. Because you've given them clear direction up front, they don't need as much along the way. As they meet your expectations you have opportunities to praise them which further energizes them. They are successful and enjoy working for you.

Effective Delegating

There are lots of benefits to delegating work to others. It allows you to get more done. It gives them the chance to take on challenging work or to work more closely with you. It enables them to grow their abilities and results in you having a high performing team. When you have a high performing team your job is easier and you're more successful.

Delegate effectively and everyone is successful. Delegate poorly and everyone is frustrated and discouraged.

Delegating effectively really just means clearly communicating your expectations. It's simple, but it takes some conscious thought and preparation before handing the reins to someone else.

Here are some important principles to remember when delegating.

Delegate to a single person - it can be tempting to assign a project to multiple people when they all have a stake in the outcome. But assigning responsibility to multiple people usually leads to one of the following results:

  • No one picks up the ball - everyone waits for someone else to take the lead which means no one does.

  • Stepped on toes - two or more people both try to take the lead resulting in them stepping on each other's toes and creating a strained working relationship.

  • Always the same person - the same person picks up the ball every time leading to uneven workload, burn out and resentment.

If you want to involve more than one person in a project or responsibility, give ownership of it to a single person but ask them to involve the others. This way there is a clear leader who feels accountable for making the effort a success and has the authority to make decisions about how to carry it out. The other participants know they are playing a support role and focus on doing that well.

Clearly explain your expectations

To do this well requires you to really flesh out your expectations up front. Here are some key things to think about:

Desired outcome - what are the specific outcomes you want them to achieve. Be as descriptive as possible about the future state you envision. This will serve as their guiding star throughout the effort.

Deliverables - if there are specific documents, reports, presentations or other concrete work products you want them to develop as part of the effort, describe each of them in as much detail as possible.

Approach - if you have an opinion on how they approach the effort such as which stakeholders to include, how they should communicate progress, or in what order to do things; tell them. Redirecting them once they have created their own plan and are moving forward will be discouraging to them. It communicates a lack of confidence and that they should run every decision by you before proceeding.

Timeline - if it's important the work be completed by a specific date, tell them. If the date is flexible, at least give them a target date so they know what to aim for. This helps them prioritize the effort against everything else they have going on.

Success measures - tell them how you will evaluate their success. Ideally the measures will be objective and quantifiable such as whether they met the due date or accomplished specific measurable objectives. But you can also include criteria you think are key to success even if they are subjective such as how well they work with stakeholders. This tells them what to focus on along the way.

Accountability schedule - tell them how often you would like updates and in what format. Do you want in person updates or should they send you a weekly email update? What information do you want included in the updates? Should they use a particular format? The Delegate list in the Get2Done List Manager Tool provides a place for the next check in date and will remind you when it's time to check in again.

These are all things you as a manager already think about when assigning work. Taking a structured approach to communicating them to your team member will set them up for success.

Put it in writing

This helps both of you in a couple of ways:

Increased clarity - going through the exercise of writing down your expectations forces you to clarify them. You'll think of details and keys to success that otherwise would not have come to mind.

Measuring stick - it gives them a measuring stick along the way to see if they are on track to meet your expectations. If not, they can self-correct instead of you having to correct them.

Throughout the project you can ask them to provide updates in terms of how well they are accomplishing the expectations you set up front. This serves as a regular self-assessment to keep them focused.

At the end of the effort you can use your written expectations as objective criteria in evaluating their performance.

Use a Template

A delegation template like the Get2Done Delegation Template prompts you to think about and clarify your expectations and provides a place to document them. When you use a template you have a professional looking document to review with your employee when assigning work. This adds some additional formality to an assignment making it seem more important to your team member.

Ask for their plan

After you have met with them to explain your expectations and given it to them in writing, ask them to create a plan and then review it with you. This does a couple of things. First, it forces them to think through how they will accomplish the objectives rather than flying by the seat of their pants. Second, it lets you see how well they understood your expectations and gives you the chance to provide additional guidance before they start down the path.

What to do after handing over the reins

What you do after you delegate work is as important to your team member's success as what you do before. Once you've communicated your expectations and asked them to create a plan, your role becomes coach, mentor, and cheerleader. Do everything you can to help them be successful without doing it for them. Train them, coach them, encourage them, be a sounding board, make time for them…but don't do it for them.

Letting them struggle with a challenging assignment without stepping in shows you have confidence in them. It helps them grow professionally and when they are ultimately successful, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.


When you delegate effectively, you build a team of high performers. People will want to work for you and will stay with you longer because you are developing them. As they learn how to take ownership, they'll become more independent. They'll track their own work and ensure they meet deadlines. You'll be able to manage more people because each one will take less of your time. You'll be freed up to focus on higher level, more strategic work. You and your team will add more value to the organization and be more successful.

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